This class is designed to be flexible, meeting your needs based on your interest in digital writing and your immediate professional aspirations. Your major project throughout the semester will be creating your own website, designed to suit your personal goals for an online presence. At the same time, we’ll study theories of writing and rhetoric in digital spaces, with writing assignments throughout the semester. The descriptions below let you know what to expect for those smaller assignments.
Blog Posts (x14)
Each week, you will create a blog post in response to the regular texts you read for homework. These weekly blog posts serve as conversation starters, sharing your thinking with the class. Additionally, these posts give you experience creating content for the Web, with special attention to basic SEO standards.
Because your work will be publicly visible, you’ll need to think carefully about audience. Though you’ll write these posts primarily for an audience of your colleagues, anyone on the Internet can access your work. We’ll talk about who is and is not likely to see your ideas, and that awareness will help you tailor your writing.
Search Engine Optimization
This class blog uses WordPress, which powers roughly one-third of all sites on the Web. It’s a particularly powerful system for hosting blogs about anything, up to and including those dreadful recipe websites we’ve all seen. Successful blogs use Search Engine Optimization (SEO) to improve the likelihood that they’ll appear near the top of search results when people look for the content on the blog.
Our class blog is no different—we want to be relevant to the discussion of digital writing, so we’re going to keep SEO at the forefront of our minds when responding to homework. The Yoast SEO plugin checks each post for readability and SEO, and you can only publish a post when it earns a “good” score for both from that plugin.
Furthermore, each post must meet basic content requirements within WordPress. For example, each post must have a featured image, and all images must include alt text for accessibility. At first, these requirements will be a frustration. Eventually, though, you’ll get in the habit of writing the way search engines expect.
All told, these are the requirements each blog post must meet:
- Title must be ≥ 10 characters long
- Content must be ≥ 250 words
- Post must be assigned to 1 or 2 categories
- Post must have 2–5 tags
- The post’s excerpt must be 120–155 characters long
- The text must link to at least one external page (such as the assigned reading material)
- All links must be valid (no broken/dead links)
- All images must include alt text for accessibility
- Each post must include a featured image
- Posts must earn “good” ratings on both readability and SEO from Yoast
Synthesis Essays (x4)
In addition to weekly blog posts, you will write a synthesis paper at the end of each of the four content modules in the course. These papers will be due after weeks 4, 7, 10, and 14. (See details on the calendars page.) The purpose of each synthesis paper is to bring together the concepts from all the readings done during that module. You’ll use the authors’ ideas to generate your own new conclusion or theory and show how the authors’ ideas support your thinking.
These synthesis papers must meet the same requirements listed above for blog posts. However, keep in mind that a synthesis will be significantly longer than a normal blog post. As always, WordPress will not allow you to publish your post until the text meets all pre-publish requirements (see above). You will likely notice how writing for academic audiences and writing for the Web are markedly different. The checklist requirements will probably make you learn new writing strategies you’ve never considered before.
By successfully completing the synthesis assignment, you will:
- Extend course readings into a broader theoretical framework
- Apply class discussions to your thinking
- Synthesize significant concepts of digital writing and rhetoric
- Practice articulating your ideas as you refine them
Complete the following steps in order to create an effective synthesis paper:
- Review the recent readings and class discussions and come to a conclusion about the ideas we’ve discussed. This conclusion can be general or specific, theoretical or applied. But it must be clearly articulated. (In other words, include a strong thesis statement articulated early in your response.)
- Apply the content of this course to a specific issue. This is your chance to experiment with ideas and think critically about something of interest to you. If you fixate/obsess over something we’ve discussed, let that focus your work. If you see a way our discussion topics apply outside class/academia, let that motivate your response. (In other words, you’ll be given a broad direction; the narrow issue you address is yours to choose.)
- Make connections among the source material we’ve considered in class, as well as any other outside sources you deem relevant. This assignment is a synthesis, not an analysis, so create a cohesive whole based on your ideas.
- Explain your thinking in an essay (audience: classmates and instructor) that asserts your conclusion and supports it with evidence, examples, and related texts.
The four synthesis papers will address these topics, in order:
- Positioning Terminology: Richard Lanham (1993) is credited with coining the phrase “digital rhetoric”. You have developed your own understanding of the concept by now. What is digital rhetoric, and how does a person demonstrate digital literacy?
- Traditional Writing: J. David Bolter (2001) discusses the process of remediating existing material, while Sven Birkerts (1994) laments the changing process of creating and consuming text. The relationships we experience among texts, authors, and audiences change when we move from print to digital materiality. How do remediation and/or hypermediacy shape our identities as readers and writers?
- New Media: Kevin Brock (2019) refers to “procedural rhetoric” as the way code constructs and communicates meaning. Code, though, is designed to be run or executed, rather than simply read, and computers neither construct nor infer meaning the way humans do. How does the the procedural element in new-media objects shape the application or implementation of digital rhetoric?
- Platforms: Marshall McLuhan (1964) famously said “the medium is the message” to suggest that any platform overshadows its content in terms of significance. Your expectations of media, your interpersonal relationships, and yourself are shaped by the platforms and mediums you use. How do content and medium interplay with rhetoric?
At the end of the semester, you will write a chapter for Kean’s student-authored Writing in Digital Spaces textbook. Your chapter will address any specific concept discussed in class. (Think of the weekly readings, not the four-week themes.) You will create a 1,250–1,500-word text designed to help students in future sections of ENG 3080 learn the relevant material and apply it to the world around them.
Your chapter will include section headings as needed, one review question per section to help readers check their understanding, 4–5 key vocabulary terms for the book’s glossary, and 3–5 discussion questions at the end of the chapter to encourage readers to think about the chapter topics beyond what was mentioned in the book. This student-generated textbook will be published online during finals week.
The last of the semester’s assignments reviews your work and argues for your success in the class. If you’ve had a class with Dr. Friend before, this assignment will be familiar. In short, you will write a letter to your instructor explaining how you know you’ve achieved each of the student learning outcomes listed in the course syllabus.
Your letter to the instructor serves to audit the content of the course by identifying what does and does not directly apply to the goals stated at the outset of the semester. You will explain how the assignments you completed helped you achieve the results expected in the syllabus.